Recently, in local media reports, there has been a focus on the declining ‘retail offer’ in York city centre. Long-established shops closing, shop units empty for a long time on the main shopping streets, so many restaurants and bars opening instead. It’s a trend we’ve all noticed and it has been going on for a while.
Because of this trend I started to think about the shops that have been around for decades, since I was a teenager, since the 1980s. Small city centre shops, family businesses many of them, places selling useful things.
In summer last year I started to take photos of some of them, intending to publish a page on the subject back then. I didn’t get around to it, but now seems a good time.
The local media outlets are focused on news, so a new shop opening gets attention, and shops closing get attention, because they’re ‘events’, newsworthy. In between the opening and the closing there’s the long slow matter of building a business and keeping it going.
So a few photos follow, a reminder of some of the survivors, small local businesses that have been around for some decades in the city centre. Notes and queries follow towards the end of the page.
In a particularly handsome shop, in the shadow of the Minster, Shared Earth.
Some wonderful things in here, handsome wood and colourful textiles. More information on Shared Earth and its history (it opened in 1986) can be found on the website.
Round the other side of the Minster, on Goodramgate, Make Your Mark, selling rubber stamps.
I’ve never bought a rubber stamp, but did notice that the shopfront and website says that this city centre shop has been providing them since 1985, which is an impressively long time.
Just down the road, by Monk Bar (as its name suggests), the Monk Bar Model Shop.
Still going strong, after 54 years. I’ve never been in, but have often admired their window display. More information on the website.
On Patrick Pool, near the Shambles market, Ernie Roy’s (which I’ve written about before).
The marvellously-named Duttons for Buttons, on Coppergate.
I was in here recently, not for buttons, but for thread for sewing, which they also sell. They were very helpful in assisting me to get the right shade of green to match a garment I was trying to mend. See their website for more on the history of this shop, and the page about Duttons on the Indie York website (worth a browse for information on other local independent businesses).
On the corner of Colliergate and King’s Square, Tullivers.
See the Tullivers website for more information on this valued local shop. It’s a place I’ve been going in for years, recently to buy flour after starting to make bread at home on a regular basis. (I was pleased to see that the range includes flours from Suma, a workers’ co-operative founded in the late 70s in Leeds, and apparently still thriving.)
And of course Barnitts, also on Colliergate, indeed taking up much of one side of the street, with expansion into more shop units in the last decade or so.
Barnitts is still a family-owned business and it has been part of York for well over a century. ‘I love Barnitts’, people will say. It’s one of those shops that has always been there, its being there gives a sense of continuity and solidity, while all around it changes. Taken for granted, a bit, perhaps.
Though I’m reminded of this mention of its caring customer service, and was also interested to read this thought-provoking comment on the shop’s ‘dementia friendliness':
There’s a Hardware shop in York called Barnitts. It is a labyrinth of doors, floors, multiple entrances and shelves stacked to the rafters with the most complex array of materials and gadgets – a real assault on the senses. The York Minds and Voices DEEP group all agree that it is the most ‘dementia friendly’ place in York. Why? – not because it has a sticker in the window, or that the staff have undergone some awareness programme – no. But because staff are everywhere, because it is disorientating for EVERYONE who enters. The staff know this and will take you to the item you need and even run upstairs and fetch stuff, regardless of any disability or diagnosis.
(https://dementiafriendly.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/im-not-sure-i-like-that/ – the whole piece is well worth reading)
Some city centre shops have managed to survive and prosper and others haven’t. If they have prospered in the past it appears that it’s now harder and harder to maintain a city centre presence, for a variety of reasons.
In a ‘utopian’ vision of York I wrote some months back I included the hope that the staying power of maintaining things would be celebrated, in the face of the recent celebrating of endless innovating. I’ve started loads of things, in a spirit of enthusiasm, that bit is relatively easy. It’s the sustaining that’s hard, isn’t it.
There are clearly many factors affecting the ‘retail offer’ in the city centre, and some of them we can’t do much about. We don’t have much power, most of us. But we have our ‘spending power’, and that’s something I’ve thought about more and more as I’ve got older. It’s political, it’s important, what we enable and support with our money (and what the powers that be support, or demand more rent and business rates from).
If we want York city centre to still have shops selling useful things, where many people, often over several generations, have worked to make it work, with the profits and wages going to people who have a connection to/roots in the city, I guess it would help if more of us shopped at them more often.
It’s difficult to imagine what the city centre will look like, and feel like, if the current trends continue.
In the small selection above I’ll have missed other city centre shops I probably should have included, so feel free to add comments to highlight others within the city walls that have been around since the 80s or before. Nice positive comments about any of the above, or thoughtful comments about the retail offer in general are also welcome. Negative comments about disappointing visits to individual shops aren’t welcome and may be removed — please use more appropriate things like Google reviews for those kinds of complaints — we’re trying to be positive and supportive here on this page. Thanks.
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I haven’t been paid for this free promotion/advertising of selected local businesses – it’s just something I put together in my usual ‘interested observer’ kind of way. If you appreciate the above, virtual coffees are welcome, as always.